My Year Without a Kitchen

Annes,

Did I ever tell you about my first year in Houston? I lived in this giant, furniture-bare, one bedroom apartment in Montrose without a working stove/oven. I had a stove. It was a gas stove! I was so excited to cook on a gas range again. However, small hiccup, the City of Houston seemed to think my apartment had been vacant for at least a year before I moved it and required a site visit.  I made this my landlord’s problem because this issue seemed to be beyond my responsibilities as a renter.  (It totally was, but I’ll get to that.) After several failed attempted visits by the City and no progress with my landlord, I gave up about six months into my lease. At that point my building was bought by a new company.  I was so over the whole thing, I didn’t event bother bringing it up with the new leasing company. (Big mistake.)  Fast forward five months when I’m putting in my notice to not renew my lease. I get a call from the regional manager asking me about my stay and why I wasn’t renewing. I let him have it, politely.  I explained the gas situation (among a myriad of other issues), and lo and behold, my building isn’t wired for gas! Why in the world would they put gas ranges in a building that isn’t wired for gas?! Why didn’t my first landlord tell me the building wasn’t wired for gas? Maybe he didn’t know? At any rate, the regional manager totally understood. They ended up giving me my entire deposit back.

As you can imagine, this put a rather significant damper on my cooking options. Fortunately, I had a microwave and slower cooker. I also borrowed from work an electric kettle with a completely removable lid that I used as a hot pot. I will say this whole situation gave me a solid platform to eat a lot more fresh/raw fruits and vegetables.

So, what did I eat in that year without a fully functional kitchen? I used my slow cooker a lot. I always had portions of Budget Bytes Chicken Taco Bowls in the fridge and freezer. Instead of putting it over rice (which requires a stove or magic microwave skills or a rice cooker), I would use it as taco filling and make soft shell tacos instead. Poaching chicken in the slow cooker was great too. I ended up shredding that for chicken salad or sandwiches. I tried to make a mushroom stroganoff in the slow cooker. That was a disaster. It tasted like mustard, but not in a pleasant way.  I am a bit ashamed to admit that once I got the hot pot, I made a lot of Pasta Roni. I mean, at a $1 a box, it’s hard to pass up. Plus, you can add vegetables and protein to it. I can’t say that I did add a lot of vegetables and protein to it, but it’s an option that other people can do. Whenever I could, I tried to get other people to let me use their kitchens, which was nice.

Annes, I have to say that year without a kitchen cut me deep.  Once I moved into the new apartment complete with actual working gas stove, it took me a few months to get back into the habit of cooking.  However, I’m back at it, stronger than ever.  Look out for my next letter where I discuss all the dishes my friends and I made for our Harry Potter movie marathon.

 

Xoxo,

C

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New Year, Same Story – Maybe

Dearest Anne,

I hope your holidays were merry and bright, or at the very least you had enough alcohol to get you through any familial crying episodes.  I spent Christmas up in Vermont where I tried skiing for the first time (and lived to tell the tale), ate some delicious sauteed kale, and tried maple cotton candy. Oh, also, we went on a sleigh ride, and there were fresh cookies and Cabot cheese at snack time.  My favorite part of the trip was sledding on our first night in Vermont. I had never been sledding in the dark before, but it was so much fun. I love sledding.  Now, that Upstate has snow this year, I will be able to do more sledding. Lastly, I kicked butt at Jeopardy.

 

Anne, unfortunately, this holiday season did not allow me much time to do any real cooking or baking.  Since I did not go home for the holidays, I was not able to participate in the annual Comito Family Ravioli-Making Extravaganza.  However, it was confirmed by Uncle Frank that without me quality control has been down the last two years. Picture cavatelli making with more of an assembly line atmosphere.

Now, that we’re through Christmas and New Year’s, I’m planning on spending more time in my kitchen.  I’ve already made a curried butternut squash soup, a seven layer dip, quesadillas, and two kinds of beans.  As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, and I’m nothing if not repetitive, I love the blog Budget Bytes. I love how Beth creates inexpensive recipes that use common ingredients.  The recipe I use most often is her (not) refried beans. So easy. Just toss all the ingredients into your crockpot for 4-6 hours and walk away. I’ve been making these since grad school; they’re good with just about anything.  Lately, I’ve been using the not refried beans as a base for quesadillas I freeze for lunches when I don’t have time to shop and cook.  They’re also good as the base for seven layer dip, which is what I made for New Year’s Eve.  The other beans I made last weekend were some straight up black beans.  I used some of the black beans in the quesadillas, and then froze the rest.

Speaking of New Year’s, I didn’t really make any resolutions for the actual day, but I’ve spent last week thinking about things I’d like to accomplish in the next year.

  1. Write everyday. I bought a “line a day” journal that has a couple lines for you to write everyday for 5 years. At this point, I’m not entirely sure if I’ll make it a lesson in concision, or if I’ll use it just to take note of mundane happenings. I’m excited to see how it evolves. In addition to writing in this line a day journal, I need to keep up with my other journals, this blog, random writings, and my thesis.
  2. Find an answer to the question, “What do you do in your free time?” It is no longer acceptable to say, “I don’t have free time,” because frankly, that’s a cop out and untrue. It’s also not acceptable to say you spend all your free time wearing sweatpants and reading the newspaper, even if that does sound like a great way to spend one’s time.
  3. Stop using my office as a glorified storage room and actually use it as an office. Resolution 1 will probably complete itself if I actually used my office for its intended purpose.
  4. Feelings — accept that I have them and deal with it. Anne, you and I both know how much I dislike having the feelings, but I must accept that I am human, which means I get the feels from time to time and there’s nothing I can do about it.
  5. As cliche as this is, be more present. I am going to make efforts to listen more fully and really participate in conversations and really commit to what’s going on around me rather than experiencing things peripherally or superficially.

So, Annes, now that I’ve told you and all the interwebs about my plans for 2013, I must accomplish them, because everything on the internet is true, and I don’t want to ruin that record.

 

Luff,

Carolyne

Soup there it is!

Dear Annes,

I hope you like my Space Jam inspired title. Oh, yes. That’s right, Space Jam. Takes me back to a happier time, like when Starter Jackets were cool.  However, that was also a time when butterfly clips were the hair accessory d’jour and gel pens reigned supreme. I think this was pre-glitter, but I could be wrong. I don’t feel like consulting my angst-ridden preteen journals. I do not think I can handle 10-year old Carolyne at this very moment.

At any rate, let’s talk about soup. Gah! That would have been a much better title than “Soup there it is!” What was I thinking? I could have rewritten the whole song and filmed a music video just for you. Damn. Maybe next time.

So, back to soups, yes? Okay. Well, after I returned from Thanksgiving in the windiest of all cities, I proceeded to get sick. Thanks a lot, immune system.  In all actuality, it was a mere head cold, but because I have a dramatic streak, I acted as if I was dying. In fact, I called my mother and told her as such*.

Me: Mom!

Mom: What?

Me: I’m dying! It’s horrible! Okay, I’m not dying. I have a cold, but it’s still horrible.

Mom: You’re weird.

Me: That is not how you talk to a dying woman.

Mom: I stand corrected. You’re very weird.

Me: I suggest we agree to disagree. Moving on, I wish I had soup right now.

*Please note this is a dramatic reinterpretation of what actually happened. I may or may not have previously mentioned I have a flair for dramatics.

Then my mother so rudely went on to talk about the turkey noodle soup she had made from the leftover turkey and cavatelli (sans sauce, fyi).  After this torture, I decided to wander to my local Price Chopper to acquire the appropriate ingredients for chicken noodle soup.

Let’s see, ingredients included some chicken broth, an onion, celery (v. important), carrots, noodles, and a rotisserie chicken.  I got the idea for the rotisserie chicken from your post about soup. So good.  Anne, I don’t know if you remember my aversion to handling meat, but I hate handling meat. It’s disgusting. Not a read. That’s a fact.  However, through some sort of heroic force, or maybe I was just sick enough to alter my thought process, I took all the meat off of that rotisserie chicken by myself, and I didn’t cry at all. Not one bit.  I did whimper through a good portion of it, but no crying from this kid.  Poor roommate Wesley tried to save me from myself, but I made him leave me alone. I told him this was my fight. Sometimes, I don’t understand how the world puts up with me.  At any rate, I put all the meat in the soup, and it was wonderful. I froze a quart or two and ate the rest of it throughout the week.

The chicken noodle soup was for lunches and stuff, but what I really wanted on that fine post-Thanksgiving Sunday was grilled cheebs and tomato soup. In an effort to eat less sodium, I have cut out most processed and canned foods. While I just wanted some classic Campbell’s tomato soup, I forced myself to make soup from scratch.  I used Michael Chairello’s recipe from the Food Network.  I was excited to have the opportunity to use a bay leaf.  Former Roommate Ellie left me some, and I haven’t been able to use one yet.  Due to my lactose intolerance, I skipped the heavy cream.  Overall this recipe was perfectly okay.  I appreciate that it only makes about 4 servings, so I can consume it in a reasonable time.  The flavor was a little lacking for me.  it didn’t really taste like tomatoes, so I added some tomato past to boost the flavor. On Sunday, I thought the whole thing was a little flat.  Roommate Wesley said it tasted fine.  I couldn’t really taste anything thanks to my head cold.  However, a few days later when I finished the last serving of soup, it was great.  Perhaps, having conquered my cold allowed me to taste again. It was like I was tasting soup for the first time. (Not really.)  Perhaps, the soup’s flavors married and created a better bond for my taste buds. Who knows. I’ll just have to make the soup again when I’m not dying.

Anyway, how have you been? How’s the new jorb?  How’s the tree climbing thing going?  This weekend I have to get a new phone, and then I’m headed to the City for work.

Luff and stuff,

Carolyne

Ladle me this, ladle me that

Dear Carolyne,

I was excited to hear that Wesley moved in with you, based on the lovely things you said about him the last time I saw you. I’m jealous and wish I was around to partake in the fun.

I don’t recall you ever bringing me homemade pasta back in Wash 6, which obviously means you don’t actually love me. 😦

Kidding, kidding. By the way, I am still working through the red sauce you made me and impressing family and roommate alike.

My own time in the kitchen has been limited lately due to, like, life happening and stuff. I got into a minor car accident right before Halloween that resulted in a prescription for muscle relaxers. I wasn’t really hurt, thankfully, just really sore. My car also wasn’t hurt too badly, but the guy who hit me’s insurance company is paying for some body work. 

Also, I quit my job without notice, which is the most irresponsible thing I have ever done in my entire life. Luckily, I start a new one on the 27th.

So, with all this funemployment vacation time with which I find myself, I finally can get back to making things!

Yesterday I stripped a rotisserie chicken for the purposes of a) having chicken meat around to use, b) to have a chicken carcass (ew, I hate the word carcass) so I can make stock, and c) to make chicken wild rice soup. I had just had some really excellent chicken wild rice soup at Tilia that cited bourbon as one of its ingredients, so I was itching to make some for myself.

It turned out awesome, albeit pretty thick. I am having this problem lately where I cannot make a thin-brothed soup for the life of me. I made Drew some chicken noodle soup a week or two ago because he had a cold, and he told me it was good but so thick it was more like white chili (I’m sure all the cayenne and black pepper didn’t help in that respect). The thing is, I like my soups thick. I have this carrot ginger soup from Trader Joe’s in my fridge right now that tastes lovely, but the texture bums me out. It needs cream or chunks of butternut squash or something to punch it up. I hate to see a good soup wasted just because it doesn’t meet my texture demands.

Anyway, my wild rice soup is almost too thick to even be called soup, but I like it that way. Here is basically what I did:

6ish Tbsp olive oil

2 c. chopped celery and onion (I had this leftover stuffing starter from Trader Joe’s that was celery, onion, and some herbs that was ideal for this kind of thing)

1.5ish c. chopped carrot

3ish Tbsp flour (here is my whole problem, I am sure)

3ish tsp mustard powder

Lots of garlic powder, because all of my actual garlic had gone bad :/

1/3 c. bourbon

1 of those cardboard things of chicken stock, it’s like 4-6 cups or something

1 Tbsp poultry seasoning

2ish c. shredded rotisserie chicken

1/2 lb of uncooked wild rice (probably the other part of my problem)

1/3ish c. of half and half

salt and pepper to taste, of course

Pretty much you know the routine here. Saute up your veggies in the olive oil, then add the flour  + mustard powder, garlic, curry. Then the bourbon, then the stock, then the rice. Let it simmer while the rice cooks. Once the rice is cooked, add the chicken and let it heat through. Add the poultry seasoning. Lastly, add the cream and the salt + pepper. Oh, I am pretty sure I put a hit of cayenne in this too, because I always do and cayenne is good at bringing out the other flavors. Just a hit, though. Like, 1/4 tsp tops.

 

I am really happy with how it turned out. I mean, minorly irked at the thickness, but only for the sake of tradition. I like it thick *eyebrow waggle*.

 

Today I am going to make my mom’s pumpkin bar recipe. Did Mom ever send pumpkin bars with me to Wash 6? I feel like she probably did, but I can’t recall. Anyway, here is the exact e-mail she sent me with the recipe, and I appreciate the air of, “Eh, whatever,” that comes with it as well as all of my mom’s recipes.

 

this cookbook had the most stains so I think this is the one I use.

FROSTED PUMPKIN BARS

1 3/4 C. SUGAR                                     1/2 TSP CINNAMON
3 EGGS                                                 1 8 OZ PKG CRM CHEESE, SOFTENED
3/4 C. OIL                                               6 TBS BUTTER
1 CAN COOKED PUMPKIN                      4 C, POWDERED SUGAR
2 C. FLOUR                                            1 TSP VANILLA
3/4 TSP BAKING POWDER                     
3/4 TSP BAKING SODA

Combine first 8 ingredients together in order given. Pour into jellyroll pan.  Bake @ 350 for 20 to 25 minutes.  Mix cream cheese, butter, powered sugar & vanilla until spreading consistency.  Spread on top of cooled bars.  ENJOY!!

(I use more cinnamon and a pinch of what everelse I have, like pumpkin pie spice, cloves & or nutmeg.  Use what you like)  let me know how they turn out.

 

Ah, mom. I am looking forward to trekking back to Iowa next week to see her and the rest of the fam. Also the pets. I anticipate coming home covered in scratches and dog hair. What are your plans this year? I’m guessing you’re not coming back to the corn capital of the world. One of these years we need to be in the same place for Thanksgiving so we can do the dinner ourselves. Can you imagine? Everyone we invited would die from awesome.

 

Love and cinnamon,

Anne

 

 

Soup Season

 

Beany. Leeky.

So good I didn’t bother to clean up the bowl before I took a picture.

 

Dear Carolyne,

I can’t stop making soups from my BrokeAss Gourmet cookbook. I know all the recipes are pretty much on the site, but having something to actually flip through is more inspiring somehow.

The one pictured above is the Bacon, Leek, and White Bean soup, which was very good but didn’t seem to yield as much as I anticipated.

 

I also made Chicken, Sweet Potato, and White Bean stew. Flavorwise, it’s quite good, but if I were to make it again I would toss in some flour at the start so that it’s thicker.

 

Love and chicken stock,

Anne

All I Ever Do is Make Bacon in The Oven

Dear Carolyne,

Firstly, I am the worst and I am sorry it has taken me so long to write. There have been kitchen experiments, like this pumpkin beer bread, which I found to be…underwhelming. It was lacking in both spices and pumpkin. I wanted it to be more moist (sorry) and for the flavor of the beer to come out more. Mostly it turned out like basic bread with a few spices.

More successfully, I made some of my friend Kim’s potato leek soup after a trip to the Saint Paul Farmer’s Market last weekend.  You’ve probably read this recipe before, but here it is again for posterity’s sake (copy-pasted from Kim’s original message):

“2-ish T butter
3 leeks, white/light green parts chopped (fairly fine slice)
1 small white onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped finely
2-3 carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 shallot, chopped (not really necessary, but I have fun shoving onions in this soup)
4 or so red potatoes, peeled (if you feel like it) and diced
4-ish cups veggie broth
roughly 1/3 to 1/2 c heavy cream
some herbs if you feel like it (I like dill or chives or both if I have any on hand)
BACON, cooked and chopped
CHEEBS

In dutch oven or large sewp-making pot or whatever, drop the butter in and let it melt. When the butter has gotten all nice and melty, drop in the leeks and let them cook for a minute or two until they soften. Add the garlic, onion, carrot, celery and shallot, stir it around and let
it hang out for about 5 or so minutes so that all those veggies start to soften and start smelling yummy. Then dump in the potatoes and the veggie broth (and any extra water you might need to make the broth level just cover the potatoes) and any dry herbs you might want to use. Bring it to a boil, drop the heat and let it hang out on the stove for about 45 minutes – an hour or so until everything is nice and soft and falling apart.
When it’s hit that stage, remove it from the heat, dump in any fresh herbs you might want to dump in (chives are awesome) and let it cool for a few minutes,
and then blend it either in batches through a blender or with an immersion blender or what have you (you could probably mush it to bits with a potato masher,
honestly). When it’s all blended, stir in the cream and adjust the seasonings. I usually serve with a handful of bacon and a handful of cheebs thrown on top, but you could probably mix that in too and it would be good.”

Not the best picture, but totally the best soup.

I almost never follow the amount of vegetables precisely, tossing in whatever I have lying around. This time I added in some hot Thai chilies (also from the farmer’s market) and seasoned it with smoked salt and smoked paprika.

It was definitely worth the injuries I sustained cutting the potatoes. :/

Anyway, it’s the best soup ever. Filling, delicious, smoky, and autumnal. Plus any opportunity I get to use my immersion blender is a good one.

The other thing I’ve been doing a lot of lately is making bacon in the oven, a trick I picked up (somewhat to my shame) from Pinterest. Basically, you line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and lay out the strips of bacon. Put everything in a cold oven and then turn it to 350°F. Give it 20-40 minutes, you can usually smell when it’s done.

I don’t know if this necessarily yields tastier bacon than doing it in the skillet does, but it is easier and less messy (let the bacon fat congeal on the parchment paper and discard, then you usually don’t even need to wash the cookie sheet).

I’ve also found that this works better with normal-thinner cut bacon. I tried it today with some thick cut bacon (also picked up from the farmer’s market-why are farmer’s markets the best things ever?) and the result wasn’t quite as satisfying. Also, did you know free range bacon is a thing? I was not aware. I know “free-range” is a kind of loose term and can basically mean the animal in question just has a large yard as opposed to a stall or pen, but I like the idea of pigs running around eating whatever before they become my delicious breakfast.

I am not a good person.

Anyway, fall is here too (obviously), and while Midwestern fall may not be quite as thoroughly pretty as New England fall, it’s still pretty great.

View from my balcony. I don't know if you can tell, but it's a little Tim Burton-y today.

The other thing I have to report is that it is time for my annual trip to Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store:
Pretty much autumnal Disneyland.

This place is basically a giant yellow barn full of candy. They also sell pies and baked goods (made on site), tons of weird soda, local hot sauces and jams, and, weirdly enough, puzzles.

I will take pictures and report back!

Miss you lots!

Anne

Amazingly, the first post is not about broccoli

Dear Carolyne,

Hooray, we have a blog! I think this is going to be excellent, even if we are the only ones who read it.

I wish you had been here last week when I decided it would be a great idea to try and sort of recreate the Savory Quinoa Waffle I had at Birchwood Cafe back in April (side note: right now they have a Pumpkin, Millet and Gruyere waffle and I want to go to there). I do not, however, own a waffle iron, and I thought I could somehow take essentially the same elements (quinoa, asparagus, cheese, and bacon) and make them into muffins pretty feasibly.

Feasibly indeed.

Pardon the questionable phone picture I snapped, but here they are. They are not exactly what I wanted, having turned out a little sweeter and a little, um, breadier than what I was shooting for. They are pretty solid, though, and definitely edible. I wish you were here to eat them with me, though, because no one in close proximity likes asparagus. No one appreciates food like you, mon amie.

Here is what I did:

2 cups cooked quinoa
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup asparagus, cut into small pieces and softened in the microwave with some butter
3 pieces cooked bacon, cut into small pieces
3/4 cup shredded truffle cheese from Trader Joe’s
3/4 cup milk
1 egg

Preheat the oven to 350. You know the song and dance here, mix the dry ingredients in one bowl (including the asparagus and cheese and bacon), but save the quinoa for last. Combine the milk and egg in a separate bowl, then combine with the quinoa mixture. Don’t over mix it.

Prepare a muffin tin in whatever way suits you best. You could probably grease and flour the individual cups, but that seems like work. I opted for stylish muffin wrappers, and I only mildly regret it, as  the paper does seem to stick to these a little bit.

Fill each section 3/4 of the way full or so. The batter is pretty thick so I mostly just plopped a large spoonful in each one. Bake for about 30 minutes, and you’ll know they’re done with you insert a toothpick and it comes out clean.

I got about 16 muffins out of this, but you would probably get more if you are more stringent about measuring the amount of batter that goes into each muffin.

If I had these to do over again, I would increase the amount of extra savory stuff. More asparagus, more bacon, and maybe some roasted garlic or some shredded carrots too.

Negating any health benefits these might have, I find they are best slightly warm with a little butter and a dusting of grated Parmesan.

I do truly wish you were here to help me eat them, but at least we’ve got this blog thing going now!

Fondly,

Anne